The latest visible (above) and infrared (below) satellite images still show a very symmetrical Hurricane Irene tightly wound up as she slowly approaches the Carolina coastline...
The eye is not currently visible, and the latest Hurricane Hunter aircraft mission "only" found a maximum sustained wind of 105 mph at the surface (much stronger winds of up to 130 mph were located right off of the surface). We still can't really tell at this point whether the present eye and surface wind conditions have to do with an eye wall replacement cycle (see my post earlier today) or not. If they do, then the eye will emerge again later today, and the winds are likely to grow stronger once again.
I am not ready to say, as some within the government and media are, that Irene has finished intensifying. She still has 18+ hours before the 1st landfall, during which time the center will reside over the very warm, buoyant waters of the Gulf Stream for several hours.
As you can see by the latest image from the Charleston, SC radar, the eye of Irene is becoming visible a couple of hundred miles offshore (as noted by the red arrow):
The rest of the particulars from the 11am EDT National Hurricane Center (NHC) Advisory: The center of Irene was located about 330 miles South/Southwest of Cape Hatteras, NC. The minimum central pressure was 27.93 inches of mercury (946 millibars), and the movement was North at 14 mph.
Watches, warnings and advisories largely remain unchanged from the early morning NHC update, and can be seen on the image below:
I would expect the Hurricane Watches to be upgraded to Warnings by the late afternoon package. Regardless of whether they "officially" are or not, I strongly encourage residents across that part of the region to continue rushing preparedness plans to completion today. Major disruptions in transportation and potentially communication will make it more difficult to get to safety over the weekend.
Irene is a large, powerful storm. Tropical storm force winds currently extend nearly 300 miles from the center, and hurricane force winds extend out nearly 100 miles from the center. The potential for widespread wind damage, power outages, communications outages, storm surge and rainwater flooding continues to be very high in association with Irene all along the East Coast from North Carolina up into New England.
For specific local information on evacuation orders, please go to this link and select the National Weather Service office nearest you.
I will be closely monitoring observational and the latest midday computer model runs and plan a full, updated post on my thoughts on the future impacts and track of Irene late this afternoon or early this evening. We should know with greater certainty by that time whether what we're witnessing right now is simply a fluctuation in intensity or something more permanent. Either way, Irene will continue to be a significant hurricane with significant impacts on the way all along the East coast, as outlined in my region specific posts yesterday evening (those posts will be updated this evening as well).
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